The rap on Obama is that the crisis in Crimea has confirmed that he is weak and Putin is strong. Given that Crimea is near-certain to revert to being Russian, this charge in particular will not soon go away.
I myself have been strongly critical of American foreign policy under President Obama, particularly, ironically, of the agreement with Russia on Syria’s chemical weapons. But any comparison between Obama and Putin cannot be confined to who they are and what they consist of – personally, psychologically, and temperamentally. Any comparison between them must be expanded to consider context.
Fact of the matter is that Putin is free more or less to do what he wants. This is not to say that he does not have some contextual constraints. As I have previously pointed out, he does. But the constraints on the Russian president pale in comparison with those on the American president. Obama’s hands are tied to a very considerable degree by a difficult if not downright recalcitrant Congress, by a press corps that carps 24/7; and by a body politic that has been increasingly less approving. Putin on the other hand has no such concerns. Russia’s parliament is in the palm of his hand. Russia’s press is near uniformly endorsing. And Russians themselves are generally admiring.
More to the point is that when Putin does encounter opposition – by the people, say, or by the press – he tends to crush it, without reprisal. Amazing what you can do in the 21st century if you’re leader of an autocracy – not democracy!